Ember: A Symbiosis of Music and Art
Chris Livengood and his twin brother Blake Stewart were born and raised in Winston-Salem and grew up on Trade Street. Chris moved to Seattle in 2001 and started a career as a special-effects makeup artist. He worked in the film industry doing horror makeup before deciding to move into the beauty side of the business and started working for MAC cosmetics.
One day while he was walking around Seattle, he wandered onto a road called Roosevelt Way. “It’s nothing but stereo shops for two blocks, and it’s called ‘Audio Row’. It’s the largest collection of stereo shops in the world. I had no idea what the hell that meant or why that was special, but it was probably like $60 million worth of stereo equipment within two blocks,” Chris said. He walked into first stereo shop to listen to some music and fell in love.
He got a job at Audio Vision SF in San Francisco. “They had everything,” Chris said. “It was one of the best hi-fi shops in the world for people to learn. A great brand of speakers and a great amplifier do not necessarily make a great system. It’s about finding the right balance of things and things that work harmonically well together and work well for the room and for the listeners — there’s all these variables.”
Chris has traveled all over the world, but found his way back to Winston-Salem. This is his home — it’s a great culture and a growing scene and, Chris says, “I’m not bored.” He and his brother Blake opened their studio Ember in 2008, and they are now located on Trade Street. Their main tier of business is high-end stereo.
High-end stereo is a very rare hobby in the US and Chris said only about 1 percent of the people are truly immersed in it, and those who are really aren’t very educated about it. “Most people come in here and go, ‘Wow, that sounds really great, do you mind if I sit down and listen?’ And I have a really open policy. I will never ask somebody to buy something.”
Art is a big part of the community in Winston-Salem, especially on Trade Street, so Ember is more than just an audio-visual store, it’s an art gallery.
“If you just have the white box, you have taken up the floor space and really not much else. You need foot traffic to run a stereo shop,” Chris said. “Our mom’s an artist and our friends are artists and we’re in the Arts District because that’s where the traffic is.” Running a dual shop is a good way to give people a reason to come in and support the local arts scene. Plus, Chris said, it’s easier to run a business in today’s economy with multiple revenue streams. He said Ember is twice, if not more than twice as profitable because of it. “What we’re doing looks cool, or neat, or colorful,” Chris said.
“People come in because there’s some ridiculous pop art on the wall… and we’ll be playing some music… and that’s how you catch people… you just let them listen, have a good time, and they’ll come back when they’re ready. That’s the best way to sell things is not to.”
EMBER is a clean, modern, simple space because the goal is for the artwork to show without distraction. Chris and Blake try to be picky about the work they exhibit. They don’t charge artists to display in their gallery, only charge a portion of whatever sells.
EMBER displays art from both local and national artists. This month, the work displayed is from Chris and Blake’s mother Susannah Ravenswing’s jewelry collection.
“I hope my mom’s show will be successful because I’d like her to pay her mortgage off. That’d be really good,” Chris said.
EMBER is located at 690 Trade St., Winston-Salem; 415.652.0694; emberav.com